It was difficult to see our daughters growing up in big cities. Both my wife and I were raised on farms where we ate potatoes and carrots from the gardens we weeded, butchered chickens and pigs and beef cattle we raised and fed, and drank milk directly from cows. These girls thought food grew in grocery stores!
So we made a little vegetable garden and each of the girls got a package of beans to plant. Kristyn, our oldest, is a methodical genius, and created a very straight row, put each bean into the ground at a common depth with equal spacing, marked both ends of the row with big sticks, and watered her “field” properly every day.
Kimberly is of a different temperament. Playing farmer was exciting for seven minutes, and then other experiences called. She never came back to her agricultural enterprise.
And then there was Kaitlyn. Thoughtful, curious, careful… She imitated Kristyn in nearly everything. Except that once the bean seeds were in the ground, she dug them up every ten minutes or so to see whether they were growing!
Time and Planning
Growing things takes time, whether an oak tree or a life of character. Measuring ourselves too quickly to see how much progress we have made will likely keep growth from happening.
Still, marking growth is helpful in order to increase outcomes and strategize trajectories. What long-term habits will support and sustain growth, and lead us into more effective ministry leadership over time? Here are some things that have been very beneficial for me:
Develop S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timed) goals for personal betterment.
The saying is true: “If you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit your target!” But if I make meaningful goals a regular part of my life, I lean into the future with expectation and anticipation and creative ways to fill discretionary time with growth-inducing practices and opportunities.
Enter into an accountability partner or group relationship.
Better than mentoring is a journey with peers who listen to me and remember my hopes and plans and dreams with me. When I vocalize to people I respect, and with whom I pray and make commitments, that I would like to do such-and-such, or develop these skills, or gain this expertise, I am much more likely to follow through, and own the process. Few of us are or should be “Lone Rangers” who make our way above and outside of the motley mass of mediocrity. Most of us need a team of supporters and encouragers to grow meaningfully.
Evaluate and shift time and relationship investments.
We all have the same amount of time in our lives, but we tend to spend that time in very different ways. One of the secrets to growing well in life is to manage time instead of having it manage us. The times of our lives will always be filled. But we can choose how we will use time, where we will be each hour, and who will be our fellow travelers on the journey. Deflecting to the path of least resistance almost certainly guarantees that we will not grow meaningfully, either in our vocations or in our relationships. We need to use time as a resource, and carve in it a channel for our lives that brings us deeper into things that truly matter. Every now and again I review a day that has passed, rating each hour from 5 to 0 in terms of overall value. That value can be learning, or it can be deepening relationships that matter with those I most love, or it can even be finding inner refreshment through solitude and a walk along the beach. But in assessing these things, I find myself longing to experience and give myself to more hours of 4s and 5s than 1s and 0s. And over time, I also shift my regular choices about what I will do next to find more 4s and 5s in my life.
Use scheduled activities
like college or seminary courses, or season tickets to cultural events, or participation in book clubs, to keep learning or growing in things that truly matter to you. I earned two Masters Degrees beyond my M.Div., and my Ph.D. as well, without specifically planning to go into teaching. The point of earning the degrees was not to head for a particular occupation, but rather to participate in a meaningful learning plan, established and controlled by others, that would “force” me to grow and read and think and change on a regular basis. It has been a tremendous blessing.
Use annual markers,
like birthdays, anniversaries, seasonal changes, church year cycles, and the like, to stop long enough to mark progress and plan next steps.
The beans won’t grow if they are dug up every ten minutes. But neither will they grow if there is no plan for care and nurturing. Our growth in personhood, skills, and deepening abilities is much the same.